Natalie Baxter has spent the last week quilting a Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol out of floral fabric.
She’s been making these “pillow guns” for the past two years as part of her soft sculpture series “Warm Gun,” but this creation was a rush order of sorts: It’s a hand-sewn replica of the gun that George Zimmerman used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012. Baxter intends to auction this gun online, with 100 percent of the profits going to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.
Baxter — who was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and works in Brooklyn, New York — began her “Warm Gun” series in 2014 after visiting a friend who had a wall of pistols in his home. Baxter was introduced to gun culture at an early age, but recent social events complicated her view of the topic.
“This was in the wake of Ferguson, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin — Black Lives Matter marches were happening all across the country,” Baxter said.
Baxter decided to form a commentary on gun control and mass violence by using the quilting techniques that her Appalachian grandmother had passed down. Her creations are plushy, colorful and created with fabrics considered traditionally feminine — from lace to lamé. Firearms are typically viewed as objects of power and masculinity. Baxter said her goal is to unsettle this image by using these fabrics and her craft technique to create non-functioning guns.
She has created more than 100 at this point. Many are modeled after actual weapons used in U.S. mass shootings. So when Zimmerman announced last Thursday that he intended to auction off the gun he used to kill Martin, Baxter said she decided to comment.
“He called it ‘an American icon,’ and I just thought that was very disturbing, and also very much in line with the type of work I was thinking about with this project when it comes to masculinity and gun culture,” Baxter said. “So I thought, I’m making these guns and they are a way of emasculating and of stripping the power of this very violent object.”
The pistol will be rendered in bright yellow, green and red floral fabric.
Cat Wentworth is the director of Institute 193, a gallery that showed selections of the “Warm Gun” series earlier this year. She said Baxter’s decision to create a replica of the Zimmerman gun lines up with the goal of her past work.
“I see it as a direct translation of what she has done with the project as a whole, which is really just to hold a mirror up to our society’s obsession with violence and gun culture, and consumption of the media surrounding it,” Wentworth said. “She’s certainly not making light of such a serious subject, more just sort of processing it in her own way and trying to spark a dialogue.”
Initially, Baxter wanted to sell the artwork today on eBay to benefit the Trayvon Martin Foundation — an organization committed, in part, to ending gun violence. But the auction website stipulates that any vendor who is selling items for the benefit of a non-profit organization must have a letter of consent from that organization, which she hasn’t gotten.
WFPL reached out to the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and they declined to comment on Baxter’s project. Baxter said if the foundation decides not to participate, she will consider donating the proceeds to another non-profit with a similar mission.